Murray eyes Tower for safety closure

AFTER a sixth and final borehole into the mountain over Utah's Crandall Canyon found
Murray eyes Tower for safety closure Murray eyes Tower for safety closure Murray eyes Tower for safety closure Murray eyes Tower for safety closure Murray eyes Tower for safety closure

Underground at Tower.

Donna Schmidt

According to local newspaper the Salt Lake Tribune, owner Robert Murray told 270 workers at the nearby Tower Mine, possibly the nation's deepest slope operation, that they would be furloughed because he was closing the complex "until I can make it safe".

He called the lay-offs temporary, according to the paper's interview with miner Jared Simms, and added that mine officials asked workers not to share the information with anyone, including their families, until everyone was informed.

He also said that he personally met with a group Saturday afternoon at the mine and, while apologising to the workers for Crandall Canyon, also told them that it is no longer possible for business to be done in Utah.

Some of Tower's workers will be transferred to his third operation in the area, West Ridge, while others will be offered expense-paid moves to Ohio and Illinois.

Murray, as of press time, had not spoken to the media about the announcement and has not released a public statement.

Tower, according to a recent report by the Utah Geological Survey, has 19.3 million tons of leased reserves and the Aberdeen section of the operation was expected to produce 1.8Mt this year.

In the group's Coal Report, it also reported overburden at Tower to currently measure 2800ft, but future plans add another 400ft to that total, making the mine "deeper than any longwall machine has ever successfully been used in the United States".

A seventh borehole?

As the world awaits further word on Crandall Canyon following a sombre result from a sixth borehole - no signs of life - company official Rob Moore has apparently not abandoned the potential for a seventh hole, according to the Associated Press.

"They gave nothing definite about anything," the families' legal representative Colin King said over the weekend. Meanwhile, he noted, the trapped workers' loved ones "are going through a living hell, and it's just heartbreaking".

As of Sunday afternoon local time, plans to lower a camera into the last hole had not yet come to fruition.

King said Saturday evening, however, that the possibility for hole No. 7 may never become reality.

"They left the possibility open that they were possibly considering another hole. It didn't sound like that was uppermost on their list of to-dos," he said.

He said that he was retained by the families and will fight for them to have closure to the situation through bringing home their loved ones.

"It is one of my major goals and the families' major goal to get them out. We will vigorously resist any attempt to seal this mine so that we can keep those options open," he said.

Underground efforts to find the miners were stopped after three workers were killed and six injured August 16, and will not resume, Murray said last week after consulting as many as eight geological and industry experts. He also said during the week that the sixth hole would be the last.

"If we don't find anybody alive in that [sixth] hole, there's nowhere else that anyone ... would know where to drill any more holes to try to find these trapped miners," he said.

He also submitted the necessary paperwork with federal regulators to close the operation.

"I will never come back to that evil mountain," he said late last week.

Murray spars with Utah governor

In response to comments Utah Governor Jon Huntsman made, "If it takes every dollar this guy has in his bank account, he needs to bring closure to this darn thing ... we've got families of six good people who are currently sitting in that mine," Murray comprised a letter to the politician telling him how his comments could put the state's industry into a tailspin.

"It is unfortunate that I must be distracted from our rescue efforts to write this private letter to you, but, if you persist in your statements and course of action, you, Governor, are going to jeopardize 700 jobs in Carbon and Emery counties," Murray said August 22.

"I cannot maintain them alone, and I definitely cannot do it if I'm going to be your whipping boy."

Huntsman's criticisms of Murray's companies and the industry, including Murray Energy and Utah American Energy and "thousands of coal miners who do respect what I have done", have been damaging to his reputation and that of miners, Murray said. He added that being referred to as "this guy" shows a lack of respect.

"Governor Huntsman, I suggest that, for your own sake, you address me as my employees do, as Mr Murray, as you have shown the ultimate disrespect to the heroes who have died and were maimed last Thursday, August 16, and whose bodies I helped recover with my own hands, in referring to me as 'this guy' and that you are going to 'take every dollar'," Murray said.

He added in the note that the future of Utah American is not clear.

"At this time, we are worrying about how we are going to keep Utah American going from a financial standpoint due to this tragedy, and, in fact, all of Murray Energy," he said.

"Every dollar has been spent that I have in my 'bank account'."

Murray added that "emotional statements" given by the families were not an accurate reflection of the feelings of everyone in the state.

"We have always done our best, and they see that," he said.

Keep watching International Longwall News for further updates on this story.